Unveiling the loss of civil liberties through Emergent BioSolutions profiteering acts during the novel virus pandemic.

Angeline Pacy, a medical editor, writer, and liaison, has this to say about civil liberties:

Growing up, I was warned that during times of great unrest and tragedy, society is willing to give up civil liberties (hard-earned rights), even embrace unproven and oppressive solutions, in exchange for perceived security and protection. In light of recent, genuine public health and national security threats, a decimated society can easily fall prey to exploitative and dangerous health care solutions (solutions that are being fueled by conflicts of interest); this is especially true for those who do not learn — or cannot learn — from the past. Throwing away civil liberties, for one-size-fits-all, quick-fix solutions, can pose long-term problems for billions of innocent lives. For the brightest future for all, we must assess and learn from the mistakes of the past.

There are similar views to Angeline’s. Let’s take a look at Emergent BioSolutions and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Emergent BioSolutions Response

Emergent BioSolutions is a multinational biopharmaceutical company that has, over the years, dedicated itself to developing, manufacturing, and delivering medical products. The company’s primary aim is to provide solutions to any public health threats. The company is responsible for producing cholera, anthrax, smallpox, and typhoid vaccines among other treatment medications

In mid-January 2020, Emergent BioSolutions assumed leadership in finding solutions to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus. The company proactively reached out to government agencies and other organizations. Emergent was offering its years of experience in developing and manufacturing vaccines to find solutions.

Emergent BioSolutions then established partnerships with Vaxart and Novavax, aimed at developing and manufacturing a potential coronavirus vaccine. Both Vaxart and Novavax are small-scale biotechnology firms that were already underway with the production of a potential vaccine for the virus. 

As interesting recent history, Emergent BioSolutions received $14.5 million as part of federal funding for the expedition of plasma therapy for COVID-19 in late March. A month later, Emergent BioSolutions signed a $135 million contract with Johnson & Johnson for the production of a vaccine candidate for the novel virus.

But, how did Emergent BioSolutions come to dominate the vaccine industry, and is this problematic for the future? Let’s dive in.

Emergent’s Puzzling History With Anthrax

As is often the case when unchecked public and private financial interests merge and serve one another, Emergent’s history of mergers and acquisitions was tediously complex. Additionally, it ultimately led to a monopoly that could pose future conflicts of interest if left unchecked.

In 1980, the Michigan Biologic Productions Institute (MBPI) owned the exclusive license to manufacture the anthrax vaccine. Michigan Governor John Engler put the company up for sale in 1996 due to alleged financial losses. Post World War II, a Biological weapons convention (BWC) was held that prohibited countries from developing biological weapons.

However, in 1992, following the collapse of the soviet union, the then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, admitted that the 1979 epidemic in Sverdlovsk was a result of an accidental release of anthrax spores. Back then, the US and the European intelligence suspected that the Soviet military microbiology facility was conducting biowarfare research. 

In 1995, high-ranking soviet defectors incited the threat of weapons of biowarfare and destruction by confirming that the Russian program continued to exist. As a result, MBPI needed renovations and reconstruction to cater to the security needs of the nation. The Government, to facilitate security, offered to pony $1.8 million for MBPI renovations. No American businesses were interested in the contracts. 

In 1997, the Pentagon, through the Secretary of Defense William Cohen, announced the plan to vaccinate all US Armed Forces against anthrax. Porton International, as Bioport Inc., took the exclusive government contract through its director, Admiral Crowe, who at the time was the U.S. ambassador to the UK. Since MBPI was on auction, Bioport acquired the facility through a promise to pay the state of Michigan a $25 million package of loans and cash. The acquisition made Bioport, currently known as Emergent Biosolutions, a monopoly in the development and manufacturing of the anthrax vaccine. 

How Emergent BioSolution Gained The Anthrax Monopoly

The monopoly was partly formed, not just with the government’s work, but through mergers with private international special interests. Fuad El-Hibri, a silent partner in Porton International and a director of a vaccine company called Porton Products, had already made a fortune selling anthrax vaccines to the Gulf States like Saudi Arabia at prices ranging from $300-$500 for every dose.

Porton Production Ltd, a subsidiary of UK-based Porton International, had been trying to gain pharma monopoly within the American biotech space for some time. However, since the acquisition of MBPI required the buyer to be a U.S national stakeholder, Fuad used his friendship with Admiral William Crowe to leverage his position. At the time Crowe was the head of the U.S. Central Command in Qatar in the 1970s. 

Admiral William Crowe officially made Fuad El-Hibri the Anthrax Pentagon policy proposition to buy MBPI assets from the state of Michigan. Fuad had made Crowe a director in Porton Production Ltd, who at the time owned 10 percent of the Bioport stock. The presence of Crowe, a U.S. national, as a high stakeholder in the company, enabled Fuad to gain the anthrax vaccine monopoly through the acquisition of the MBPI assets.  

9/11 And The Anthrax Terror Attacks

By September 2001, the Pentagon was ready to prepare a report that would terminate its contract with Bioport. After the events of September 11th, fear ensued that terrorists wanted to attack the U.S. military as well as civilians with anthrax.

As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led by the efforts of Jerome Hauer, intervened. Bioport’s license was renewed. The company was also given a contract for the expansion of the production of the anthrax vaccine by the FDA. The aim was to facilitate security for the entire nation. 

Corruption In Bioport And The Anthrax Vaccine Controversy Issues

A Record Of Wrongs

Government records show that Crowe did not use a single dollar to purchase the Bioport stocks. Upon further investigations, it was also determined that the policy recommendations Governor John Engler used to justify the sale of MBPI were a front made by the Koch brothers.

MBPI was sold to Bioport because of the sudden spike in demand for products from the U. S. Government and not from its inability to facilitate those demands. 

What Bioport Gained

After the acquisition, Bioport gained millions of dollars in support of the production of the anthrax vaccine.

The Pentagon had already secured funds, at least $16 million, for the MBPI renovations. Bioport inherited $8 million from the first contract, and another that was at least $45 million in total

Pentagon Discovers The Misuse of Funds

Pentagon auditors determined that millions from the anthrax vaccine funds were spent on renovating the executive offices instead of renovating the vaccine factory. Millions of dollars were spent on bonuses for the senior management while more funds remained unaccounted.

Despite the gross misspending of the allocated anthrax vaccine funds, Bioport demanded a bailout from the Pentagon to secure the demanded vaccine. Twenty four million dollars was awarded to the company because of national security concerns. The money was awarded despite protests from the Pentagon auditors. Bioport responded by increasing the price of each vaccine dose from $4.36 to $10.64.

The Pentagon was also paying Bioport for the storage of the vaccine. Altogether, the bailout, the increased prices, and the storage fee demonstrate the massive profits the company obtained through the government contracts. 

Congressional Hearings Reveal Vaccine Dangers, Human Experimentation, And Conflicts Of Interest

Congressional documents not only allude to the conflicts of interest but the dangers of unethical human experimentation on vaccine-damaged military personnel. Even though the vaccine lacked an FDA license (and with its safety and efficacy data consistent with its wide-spread military use), contracts required exclusive use of the Bioport anthrax vaccine. As a result, the majority of the vaccines acquired were unsafe and unusable.

By 2003, 2.4 million U.S. troops had been vaccinated against anthrax, leaving many with disabilities as well as a wide range of symptoms like joint pain, permanent headaches, and other long-term side effects. Despite this, Bioport continued to state that the anthrax vaccine was safe in humans, inevitably, demonstrating the unquestionable dire ethical concerns.  

Nevertheless, findings later released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed that 85 percent of the recipients experienced adverse effects from the vaccine. As a result, many members of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve left the military. Further claims stated that the vaccine had killed more than 20 people and that it had left another 4000 or more ill with the number of severe cases approximating 347.

Emergent BioSolutions Legal Issues

The initial emergency hearings Congress organized against Emergent Biosolutions were met with opposition. In March of 2003, the Pentagon, FDA, and HHS were sued by the Defense Department Civilian contractors as well as six military service members for the mandatory vaccination policy. In October 2004, a federal judge ruled that the mandatory vaccine was illegal.

Bioport, at the time, having changed its name officially to Emergent BioSolutions, was massively affected by the ruling. The government contracts to vaccinate U.S. troops were no longer viable following the unsafe health effects it had on the military troops. 

Emergent BioSolutions History Of Challenging Competitors

Emergent has long had a history of either challenging its competitors, like in the case of VaxGen, or buying them out, like in the case of the new competitor PaxVax. VaxGen was an early competitor to Emergent’s vaccine monopoly.

When HHS issued VaxGen a contract in 2004, a war ensued between the two companies that were promoted to Congressional hearings and spread to the press. Later, Emergent bought and acquired the terminated VaxGen to counter competition from the new threat, PharmAthene.  

Editor’s Note: In part 2, we discuss what Emergent Biosolutions monopoly on vaccines may mean for you.

Elton was first a general writer. But after battling a weight management problem, he became passionate about living a healthy lifestyle. Now he works out 5 times a week, lives off keto, and writes about health.

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